Faith Matters

Dr Richard Clarke: What St Patrick means to me

Dr Richard Clarke, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh
Dr Richard Clarke

FOR me, one of the joys of Patrick's Day - particularly in Armagh - is the sense of the day uniting people.

The city of Armagh has two cathedrals named for St Patrick, both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic cathedrals, and both Archbishops are very much involved together in the celebration of the day.

At a deeper level, however, there is more to our celebration of St Patrick.

At a time of mass migration across the globe, I become increasingly aware that Patrick was a migrant and, on his first visit to Ireland, an unwilling one.

In modern parlance, we would say that he was "trafficked". And trafficking is still with us today, and on an increasing scale, an evil scourge that destroys the lives of thousands of people, year in and year out.

We should not be under any illusion that our part of the world is somehow spared from this use of other people as disposable commodities who have no rights, and who are given no hope of a better life by those who see them only as a means for profit.

Yet, Patrick the trafficked slave, is somehow able to rise above this deprivation. With courage and faith, he returns to Ireland - again as an exile - but with a new purpose and determination to bring his Christian faith to those around him.

The special prayer - the collect - for St Patrick's Day used by the Church of Ireland throughout the island of Ireland thanks God for choosing St Patrick to bring those people of Ireland who were in darkness into a true light, and knowledge of God.

It was painful and difficult for a man who had been so badly treated as a trafficked slave, but we should be thankful that in his exile Patrick selflessly gave all of himself to bring Christian peace and love into the lives of those around him.

A St Patrick's Day that is worthy of the name should join us together in thanking God for all those who have given us our individual understanding of the Christian faith.

Equally we should feel a real determination to treat those who are exiles here in Ireland here today with the dignity and care that they each deserve as children of God.

:: Dr Richard Clarke is the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

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